Grand Junction’s season comes to an end in loss to Smoky Hill in playoffs

Grand Junction’s Sam Morgan eyes the basket Tuesday night as he is surrounded by Smoky Hill’s Phill Hill, back, and Robby Turk during the second half of the Tigers’ loss in the Class 5A state playoffs.

For the third straight game, the fourth quarter was not very kind to the Grand Junction High School boys basketball team.

The only difference was after late-season losses to Fruita Monument and Central, the Tigers (15-9) lived to play another day. The Tigers’ season ended Tuesday night in a 62-55 loss to Smoky Hill in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs.

Grand Junction trailed by only two, 37-35, heading into the fourth quarter before giving up 25 points to the visiting Buffaloes. It’s the second straight season the Tigers lost a home playoff game.

“Those last three games, we had it going into the fourth quarter and lost it,” Grand Junction coach Dutch Johnson said. “It sucks to be right there.”

The Tigers came out of the first half trailing 31-21 and struggled, as Robby Turk began the third quarter with five straight points. The Buffaloes held a 10-point lead until three minutes left in the quarter when Grand Junction got hot. Tyler Winder started it off with a 3-pointer which was followed by two 3’s by Tommy Powers to cut the lead to 35-32. With 14 seconds left, Smoky Hill got a layup from Cory Sandhagen, and looked to take a 37-32 lead into the fourth quarter. Winder put the Tigers within striking distance by knocking down Grand Junction’s fourth consecutive 3-pointer to put the game at 37-35 going into the fourth.

“It was one of those games of runs,” Johnson said. “They’d get a lead and we would chip away at it, but it was too little, too late.”

Smoky Hill didn’t waste any time putting together its next run, as Turk and Phil Hill attacked the Tigers’ defense, getting easy layups. Turk had 15 points for Smoky Hill, all of which came in the second half. Hill had a game-high 18 points.

Johnson said the Tigers weren’t executing defensively against the Buffaloes’ main offensive game-plan.

“We did a good job of guarding their penetration for three and a half quarters,” Johnson said. “But they went on a run in the fourth where every single bucket was a penetration layup.”

After the hard work the Tigers put forward in the third quarter to cut the deficit, with four minutes left in the fourth they found themselves down 50-39.

Grand Junction didn’t give up down the stretch and pulled to within five points at 60-55, but with 10 seconds remaining it wasn’t enough time to make a final push.

“We’d get up then they would get it close,” Smoky Hill coach Keenon Clement said. “We have to play the whole 32 minutes, and give credit to Junction because they made some big shots and made it hard on us.”

The Buffaloes face No. 1 seeded Montbello on Friday.

It was a tough ending of the season for the four Grand Junction seniors, including Sam Morgan, who played one of his best games of the season, finishing with a team-high 14 points. Other seniors Tommy Powers, 13 points, Jesse Smith and Mark Stern all started for the Tigers for a majority of the season, and were important pieces that allowed Grand Junction to get as far as it did this season.

“It was a good group of kids, and where they came from to this year was pretty cool,” Johnson said. “Those are four kids gave every ounce of what they had, and it was a pleasure to coach those four.”


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